If tech companies don't want to deal in violence, they should stop partnering with US military and intelligence

  • Affirming their opposition to violence and incitement, Silicon Valley corporations lead the way removing the President Donald Trump from their platforms and shutting down Parler, an app popular with his supporters.
  • But these same firms have deep relationships with the US military and the Central Intelligence Agency.
  • As a matter of consistency and morality, these tech firms ought to end their profitable relationships with these parts of the US government that perpetuate violence abroad.
  • Christian Sorensen researches the military-industrial-congressional complex. He is a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of critical & independent expert former military, intelligence, and civilian national security officials. His views are his own. 
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Silicon Valley giants have banned the President of the United States from social media and suspended Parler, a social media app popular with the president's supporters, in response to the storming of the US Capitol. The corporations involved cited incitement to violence as their main rationale for taking these steps. Given Silicon Valley's ties to the military, such actions reek of hypocrisy. 

If Big Tech is concerned about violence, then it should stop selling goods and services to the US military establishment, which, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted in 1967, is the single "greatest purveyor of violence in the world." 

Tech companies and the US military

Today's wars have inflicted devastating costs upon civilian populations and the US troops carrying out the Pentagon's plans. And Silicon Valley is helping fuel these efforts. Goods and services sold by Big Tech corporations to the US military include satellite technology, information technology, espionage software, artificial intelligence research and development (R&D), and cloud computing.

Amazon recently suspended Parler from its Amazon Web Services hosting service, reportedly because Parler was used to "encourage and incite violence" in the Capitol. 

Yet, in 2013, Amazon sold cloud services to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The violence inherent to the CIA's armed General Atomics drone program is well known, but the CIA's violence stretches back through the agency's interference in the Greek Civil War in the late 1940s, mass murder in Indonesia in the 1960s, Operation Condor in South America in the 1970s, and dozens of other campaigns.

Do Big Tech firms think the CIA has changed its ways? These firms were mum in spring 2017 when the Trump administration reportedly granted the CIA freer rein to conduct lethal drone strikes. Peak hypocrisy is when five deaths at the US Capitol warrant censorship and suspension, but hundreds of civilian deaths overseas do nothing to hinder a business relationship with the CIA. No such violence is acceptable. Nonetheless, Amazon is one of five tech companies that recently inked a new multibillion-dollar cloud contract with CIA and other US espionage agencies.

Google just suspended President Donald Trump's YouTube channel, stating that the channel violated the corporation's policies on inciting violence. Yet, Google sells to US military units, including to the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, or JAIC, whose mission is to guide AI's adoption across the military and ultimately enhance warfighting. 

The Business Roundtable, of which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is a member, issued a statement lamenting the "chaos unfolding in the nation's capital." The statement was then retweeted by Microsoft president Brad Smith. Despite this, US military computers run on Microsoft Windows, and Microsoft has made substantial profits abetting the chaos that the Pentagon has sown over the past 20 years in capitals across the globe.

Corporate executives deliberately sidestep the fact that Microsoft is a steady supporter of state violence. From the most sleep-inducing PowerPoint to intricate battle plans to crippling cyber operations — Microsoft products are integral. Silicon Valley's modus operandi is to amass enormous amounts of wealth, and the military and intelligence budgets are where the money (and the violence) is.

Silicon Valley relies on the US military 

Institutionalized aggression, which tech firms profit from, is justified as necessary violence, burnished with traditional patriotism. Jeff Bezos, speaking in December 2019 at the Reagan National Defense Forum, conveyed this best: "We don't have to agree on everything. But this is how we are going to do it. We are going to support the Department of Defense. This country is important."

Journalist Yasha Levine's 2018 book Surveillance Valley documents how military objectives drove the establishment and growth of Silicon Valley, notably via the funding of companies, research, and internet projects. The Pentagon deepened Silicon Valley's military ties in 2015, establishing the Defense Innovation Unit in Mountain View, California, with the goal of leveraging new Silicon Valley technology for, of course, surveillance and war.

Also established in 2015 was the Defense Digital Service, a pipeline designed so Silicon Valley talent can easily rotate in and out of the military and large war corporations, or "defense companies," whose contractors carry out a substantial portion of daily military and intelligence activity. 

Profit and violence go hand in hand

Many argue that Silicon Valley can sell products to anyone they're legally allowed to, including the US government. The customer then gets to choose to use the company's product as it sees fit, the argument goes. This familiar refrain protects both corporation and customer, and lubricates the military and industrial sides of the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Weapons manufacturers regularly rely on such sleights, as seen when one corporation punted journalists' questions to the Pentagon after a customer's airstrike reportedly massacred a busload of children. If government might makes right and corporations aren't held liable for their harmful products, then there will be no end to lucrative violence.

Differences in intent and application of technology obscure the fact that profit is the primary explanatory variable in Silicon Valley business decisions, whether it's selling to US military and intelligence or keeping the populace glued to social media via refined algorithms that often favor inflammatory content.

Hypocrisy is par for the course. Executives from across the war industry condemned the violence at the Capitol. But their business is war — they profit daily from violence overseas.

The anti-democratic nature of the military-industrial-congressional complex blends well with the latest censorship coming from Silicon Valley. Not a single Silicon Valley billionaire — from Mark Zuckerberg to Jack Dorsey to Jeff Bezos — was elected. Why do they get to censor elected politicians? Aside from the president's supporters, who comprise a sizable portion of the country's population, there are swathes of libertarians, progressives, and socialists who reject this censorship on sundry matters of principle. 

People cheering Big Tech's censorship miss the point: hypocritical tech corporations are integral to state violence and that should be the focus of the public's attention.

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